Push Notifications Defined

Push notifications are simple messages sent out from apps that are installed on a device. When received on a device, these notifications wake up the handset and alert the user with a message displayed on the home or lock screen. Push notifications are widely used on all mobile devices to share updated information or events while the user is not actively using the application.

On Android devices, when a device receives a push notification, the sender application's icon and a message appear in the status bar. When the user taps the notification, he lands on the application. Notifications can be broadcast to all users (example for branding campaigns) or can also be sent to just a sub-set of users, to share personalized information.

How does push notification work

What are Push Notifications on Android & iOS?  

Why are they used?

Push Notification provide value and information to users. For example an ecommerce company can use Push for:

  • Transactional notifications  
  • Gathering user feedback
  • Re-engage inactive users
  • Sales and Promotions (Announce a limited time sale, driving customers to the app to convert)
  • Price drop alerts (Send alerts to users who are watching out for price fluctuations on specific products or holiday destinations)
  • Notify customers when relevant new products are available on the app
  • New coupons
  • Remind customers about pending products in their shopping carts
  • ‘Product back in stock’ messages
  • Share information about loyalty points accumulated and they could be used by the user
  • Complementary Communication Channel (Flight check in, change, and connection information) 
  • Utility messages like traffic, weather and ski snow reports

Who can use Push Notifications on iPhone and Android?

Any app provider who wants to share meaningful and relevant information with users can use Push Notifications. These notifications are typically used by

  • Ecommerce apps
  • Shopping apps
  • Travel apps
  • Utility apps
  • Gaming apps
  • Service apps
  • Content apps
  • News apps
  • Social media apps

History of push notification

How do push notifications work? 

  1. The device is registered in a Push Notification Service 
  2. The device acquires a descriptor (channelURI, token, registrationId – the descriptor type depends on specific Push Notification Service 
  3. The device sends the descriptor to the server 
  4. The server sends a notification text to the Push Notification Service 
  5. The Push Notification Service forwards the notification text to the device

iOS vs Android (how are they different) 

Nishant Gupta

iOS Android
Permissions Opt-in required using default screen No opt-in required
Body character limits - 117 characters for lockscreen and 128 characters for alert style notification (4lines)
- 97 characters for banner style (2 lines)
- Depends on device.
- 1 line in preview with ability to expand to 8 lines
- Display format can be customized with layouts
Direct app open Yes Yes
Deep link support Yes Yes
What happens when push reaches the device iOS automatically puts the message into notification center Android informs the app that there is a message, and app can decide whether to display it or hide it.
Store and Forward [What happens if users device is offline, when push is attempted to be delivered] It stores only one unsent message that too recent. It can store multiple based on collapse keys.
User control of app level push notifications Yes Newer versions of Android have this setting. Not required opt-in.
Image support Apple Watch only Yes
App badging Yes Available on certain manufacturers' custom Android OSes (Samsung)
Sound support Yes Not at an OS level, but can be coded.
Payload limit 2 kilobytes 4 kilobytes
Interactive buttons Limited to 2 Up to 3
Feedback Not from an app, rather through APNs Feedback Server Yes, response from the App/Device
Direct app feedback on delivery No Yes
Device management - iOS adds message to Notification Center.
- iOS 9 chronologically; iOS 7-8 by app
- Android allows for notifications to be displayed on lock screen
- App decides whether to display or hide
Message queuing for offline devices Stores only one unsent, more recent message - Can store 99 messages
- Updates based on collapse keys
Two way messaging support No Yes using XMPP
Receiving messages from Multiple senders No Yes
Dellivery reply you have to query the feedback server to pinpoint invalid device tokens always replies with information whether or not the delivery is successful
incoming messages discards the queued message and tries to deliver the latest tries to deliver all incoming messages
Push Update any notification is a separate entity can update previous notifications
Behaviour once an iOS user unlocks their screen, a push notification moves straight to the notification tray, resulting in an “out of sight, out of mind” conundrum for brands messages “stick” around longer in the lock screen, which requires users to acknowledge the notification in one way or another
Message Expiry Apple didn’t reveal. It can be user set value with time-to-live parameter [0-4 weeks max]
Localization Yes using loc-key,loc-args Not directly but we can use same iOS approach

Opting in for push notifications 


iOS apps require a user to grant permission for an app to send them push notifications, while Android and Fire OS do not. Convincing users to opt-in is important for the success of apps on iOS.

The majority of iOS apps show a standard iOS alert when the app is first opened. A better approach is to show the value of opting in — for example, with a customized welcome series upon first open — then let the user opt-in later. Median opt-in rates for iOS range from 58% for charity apps to 33% for games.

High performing apps across all industry verticals (those in the 90th percentile) have opt-in rates above 50%. Travel, business and charity app opt-in rates lead verticals with rates greater than 70%

How do users see it? (ios/android/windows)

The Notification Center can be accessed by swiping downward from the top edge of your iPhone or iPad, and then swiping left. Any apps allowed to push notifications to your device will be displayed here. If you want to clear a group of notifications, tap the “X” in the upper-right corner.

Where as in android you can access them by swiping downward from the top edge of device. All notification will stay in the tray untill you swipe them or take an action.

2003: Blackberry Push Email - Back then, if you had to read your emails while on a train, you needed a Blackberry. RIM was the first OS to use Push Notifications for their email app. Later, the usage of Push expanded to free texting between Blackberry devices.

Rich media push notification iPhone and Android

Now It is possible to embed product images for top of mind recall and better engagement. It can be done by integrating with your app’s product feed. 

Some interesting use cases of Rich Media Push Notifications are -  

  • Send 1-1 dynamic Personalized Push Notifications based on product categories of interest rather than blanket messages to all your users. 
  • Recommend products that interest the user based on her past behaviour within your App. 
  • Embed product images within the Push Notification directly from your product feed. 
  • Send price drop alerts or availability based triggers based on the user’s interest. 

Learn more about push notifications

What is personalized push notifications?

2009: Apple launched Apple Push Notification Service (APN) It was the first push service.

2010: Google released its own service, Google Cloud to Device Messaging (C2DM).

2012: Google Cloud Messaging (GCM)

2013: Android 4.2 ICS released with Rich Push

Rich notifications contain images, as well as action buttons. Action buttons let users take immediate action from a notification. For example, the user can play a song, open the app, or see more information.

2014: Apple added interactive buttons. These buttons allow users to send a response right away to the app publisher. Shortly after, Apple extended push notifications to the Apple Watch.

Use behavioral data and user interests to trigger personalized multi-product Push. They are usually clickable, scrollable and when clicked take the user to the relevant product view within your app.

To start sending Push Notifications from your app, you will need to set up a server first. This server sends a notification to Apple's Push Notification Service (APNS) or GCM (Google Cloud Messaging), which then sends the notification to the user's device.

How does the server know which device to send it to? When the user opens your app, you have code in place to register their device with your server. It's a best practice to re-register with the server each time the app is opened to prevent any issues when the user gets a new device and restores it from a back-up of their old one.

The user can turn off Push Notifications on a per-app basis in the Settings app. If they turn off Notifications in your app, or if they uninstall your app, Apple provides a Feedback service which you query to find out who to stop sending Notifications to. 

Technologically-wise, the notification delivery is performed through a Push Notification Service which is specific for each platform: APNS for Apple, GCM for Android, MPNS for Windows Phone app, WNS for Windows Store apps, etc. However, the algorithms for different Push Notification Service are similar and are based on the following sequence of actions:

Does push notifications use data?

Rich Media Push Notifications Guide: Get Access to a free ebook that will help  youunderstand how to use Rich Media Push Notifications at each stage of the  purchase cycle

Apps that use push notifications (such as instant messaging or social media apps) will use cellular data.

Growth Hacker

Metrics to track

Authored By:

  • The number of notifications sent
  • Frequency of notifications sent
  • Notification after which the provision was disabled
  • Open rate & click-through rate
  • The number of notifications delivered
  • App launch via push notification
  • Time on app after a certain notification
  • Number of sales & total sales revenue
  • Delivery time with respect to re-engagement

Interested ? Let's get started!

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